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Advocates Call for Strengthening of “Dram Shop Laws”

by | Nov 26, 2012

The successful $2 million lawsuit by a North Carolina couple against a bar that served drinks to the driver who crashed into them, killing their unborn child, has prompted renewed calls across the country to criminalize the “reckless” serving of alcohol.

The case was profiled in USA Today after it was determined that the bar served a man approximately 10 drinks in two hours, just before he got behind the wheel.

D.C. DUI lawyers know that laws holding establishments accountable for DUIs are called “dram shop laws,” and all but about seven states have them in some form. They vary slightly depending on where you are, but the underlying principal is that an establishment that sells or serves alcohol to someone who is either a minor or already heavily intoxicated or whom the server knows to be an alcoholic, may be held civilly liable should that individual crash. There are even some states that allow the drunk driver to later sue the establishment for harm he causes himself.

The District of Columbia doesn’t actually have its own dram shop law, but the concept has been adopted via case law.

The first case to establish this was Zou v. Jennifer Mall Restaurant Inc.,which was decided in August of 1997 by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. In that case, a husband and wife injured in a DUI in 1982 were given the right to sue in civil court according to D.C. Code 25-121(b), the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, which holds that it is negligence per se for a vendor to sell alcoholic beverages to an already intoxicated per se, and that such a negligent vendor can be responsible for injuries to third parties. The couple was awarded a summary judgment by the Court of Appeals for $300,000.

In the second case, Jarrett v. Woodward Bros., Inc., the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that an intoxicated, underage patron could later sue the vendor in civil court for injuries sustained as a result of that intoxication. Using the foundation of the earlier judgment, the justices ruled that the “assumption of risk” standard that holds true for adults is not applicable to minors.

But those are with regard to civil remedies.

D.C. Code Ann. 25-781 holds that establishments or employees can be held accountable by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration if they sell or furnish alcohol to a person under the age of 21, or to someone who is intoxicated or appears to be intoxicated or to someone who is known to be an alcoholic. Still, the most the person, or establishment, might receive is a citation. Fines associated with that citation could be up to $1,000, but you probably won’t serve jail time. However, such action may result in your license to operate being revoked or suspended.

Following the case in North Carolina, advocates are seeking to strengthen these penalties, and make jail time an option.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-765-3175.